Sweat moisture does build up because I impregnate the leather with Sno-Seal. Over the past 25 years I’ve worn many boots with Gore-Tex liners and they all worked as advertised until the waterproof membrane abraded through. Depending on how well-made the boot, this happened as soon as one season, as late as five. To minimize foot sweating, I treat my feet with antiperspirants.
Tips and Tricks
Seams Like a Good Idea: Protect seams by saturating or painting them with any number of flexible, waterproof seam sealers, usually urethane or silicone (uncured rubber), before they abrade. Seam Grip is one respected brand. Stop broken seams from continuing to unravel in the field by singeing their ends with flame. Prevent rot by cleaning mud and debris from seams after each use. Don’t store boots with dirt on them. This fuels molds and bacteria, which destroy leather and stitching.
Waterproof Leather? Some leather is said to be waterproof because it has been treated for maximum shrinkage and/or saturated with silicone. Water “resistant” is more accurate. The only leather I’ve found to be waterproof was covered in rubber.
You must treat leather to keep it from soaking up water. If the manufacturer used silicone initially, reapply it regularly. Otherwise, waxes seem to work best. “Melt” them into leather, but don’t get leather too hot while doing this. Use a hair dryer judiciously or set boots in the sun until they are warm, then rub in the wax. You’ll see it disappear into the leather. Apply several layers. The idea is to fill every pore because the surface layer rubs off quickly in grass and brush. This can, and probably does, prevent Gore-Tex boots from properly “breathing.”
LOWA, a German boot maker since 1923, recommends a wax-based cream and a hair drier “used quickly to heat the emulsion.” Danner suggests using its Boot Care Cleaning Gel to clean its boots, its Waterproofing Gel to waterproof them. Read the care tips that came with your boots. Cordura boots cannot be waterproofed with waxes, oils or sprays.
No Break-In: In the good old days leather boots required extensive break-in. A common approach was to soak the boots, then hike them dry. This molded the leather to your foot. Hunting boots today usually include so much padding, insulation, contoured insoles and synthetic liners that breaking-in isn’t necessary. It remains a sensible idea to begin indulging in short walks, then longer hikes well before an extended hunt in new boots, but skip the soaking part.
Socked In: According to Jim Winjum of Kenetrek boots in Bozeman, MT, modern “fitted” socks contribute significantly to boot comfort. “Modern weaving machines do wonders, making structured heel pockets so socks don’t slide down,” he explained. “They put Spandex in just the right places to keep socks in place. Merino wool is a miracle fiber that’s naturally anti-microbial, non-itching, naturally wicking and a great insulator even when wet.” Winjum admitted Merino wool isn’t particularly durable, so you should look for 15% to 37% nylon, perhaps a bit of polypropylene and lycra for stretch. Structured socks add thickness where it’s needed for protection, thinner areas to prevent bunching and binding. Lorpen, Bridgedale, Thorlo, Lowa and Kenetrek are proven brands.
Dry is Warm: Heavy wool socks and thick wool boot liners don’t keep feet warm very long because sweat soaks them. Water sucks heat from your body 25 times faster than still air. The ticket to warm feet is keeping insulation dry. One approach is to wrap bare feet in plastic. The theory is feet perspire until the skin reaches its natural humidity comfort level. If you can keep that moisture from soaking your insulation layers, you stay warmer. I’ve never been able to tolerate plastic bags over my bare feet because the plastic pinches my toes. So I treat my feet with “underarm” antiperspirant. This doesn’t eliminate sweating, but sure seems to minimize it.
Try it next winter. You might also carry a change of socks and do just that – change them when feet get chilled. Also, thoroughly dry your boots overnight so their insulation returns to its full efficiency. Stuffing dry newspapers inside is a safe tactic. Replace them after a few hours. You can also blow warm, but not hot, air into damp boots. Hair driers and special boot driers work well. Don’t set boots near a hot stove. Remember, extreme heat breaks down all fibers and some glues.
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